There's something almost mystical about the Colorado Plateau. Its extraordinary and distinctive landscape has drawn in countless Native American tribes, pioneers, cowboys, and roadtrippers for centuries. Stories and legends, from Native American beliefs to iconic Westerns, are tied to the land, and the history here is so visceral and palpable, you can't help but feel it in your bones. Use the Four Corners monument as your center as you loop from New Mexico to Colorado to Utah to Arizona, and take advantage of every chance you get to experience as much of the special history here as you can. It can, at times, be challenging to face, but it's something we all should learn about and from.
Sunny the Big Man, also known simply as the "Muffler Man" of Farmington New Mexico, has been a town landmark since the early 1960s. You'll be able to see him from the road.
But what are Muffler Men? They're 14- to 25-feet-tall fiberglass statues of lumberjacks, Indians, cowboys, and more that were spread all across the country in the early to mid part of the 20th century, usually in order to attract more business to restaurants or shops. The original Muffler Man was created in such a way that it could be easily replicated for a fee. While the original "Muffler Man" was actually a lumberjack holding an ax, Muffler Men also be easily dressed up in new gear, including mechanic clothes (hence the name "Muffler Man") and more.
Sunny the Big Man got his name in 2005; the community voted on his name after his previous owner shut his store down. "Sunny" was added to "the Big Man" after the vote. Stop by to say "Hi" and grab a photo with ol' Sunny!
30090 US Hwy 160, Durango, CO, US
Located at an elevation of 7,000 feet and sitting atop a mesa, the Durango KOA Holiday is a prime spot for some incredibly cool and relaxing summer nights with family and friends. Kick back and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature while taking advantage of the peace and tranquility that the Durango KOA Holiday campground provides.
Enjoy a nightly movie, play a round of mini golf, lounge around in the heated pool, or just hang with the neighbors staying around your tent. Make sure to take a peek out into the horizon and you'll see the beautiful San Juan Mountains. While you're more than welcome to just relax here, if you're looking for a little extra adventure, the popular Mesa Verde National Park is only an hour’s drive away, or you can rent kayaks and spend a day on the lake.
6475 County Road 203, Durango, CO, US
The best thing about a road trip is that you can stop off anywhere along the route when you feel the need to treat yourself, and there are plenty of places in the Four Corners region to do just that. The Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs is the perfect place to let your worries melt away. Get a variety of premium spa treatments, alternate between two different temperature pools, or really let loose in the only naturally-heated waters available publicly in the Anima Valley. The hot spring waters are rich in minerals and always stay at a relaxingly warm temperature as they flow through the well-heated volcanic fissures. Yep, that's right... a magma-warmed mineral water soak awaits right off the route; what better place to treat yourself after a long day on the road?
34879 Hwy. 160, Mancos, CO, US
Mesa Verde, which means "Green Table" in Spanish, offers a historic look into the home and land of the ancestral Pueblo people who lived in what is now Mesa Verde National Park. Today, Mesa Verde National Park protects and preserves over 5,000 known archeological sites, as well as over 600 cliff dwellings, massive structures built right into the sides of the mesa, which the Pueblo people used to call home. The NPS has done a great job of not only preserving these antiquities but also interpreting what was left behind for those visiting today. Between guided tours and the visitor center, which is loaded with artifacts uncovered here, natural beauty and history abound in this completely unique national park. With many hiking trails to explore, scenic drives, rich history, and incredible views, you definitely don't want to miss Mesa Verde National Park.
27432 E. Highway 160, Cortez, CO, US
Within driving distance of Four Corners (where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet), the Cortez / Mesa Verde KOA is in the perfect spot to keep you involved in all the action. Make a point to take a walk on the many trails the Cortez / Mesa Verde KOA campground has to offer, or shake off the dust on your fishing pole and go catch a few fish at Denny Lake. You’ll also find tons of entertainment, from a heated pool to horseshoes to basketball courts.
Spend as long as you want exploring what's nearby, and you'll return to comfort at your deluxe cabin, tent, or RV. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you can spend a night in a traditional six-person teepee; it's the perfect way to add extra Southwest flair to your adventure.
913 E. Navajo Twins Dr, Bluff, UT, US
The Twin Rocks Trading Post, located in gorgeous Bluff, Utah, offers a unique and fun selection of quality handcrafted Native American and Western art. Not only will you be able to pick up a few souvenirs for friends and family back home, you'll get the chance to learn and read about the meanings behind ancient health rituals, tools, and crafts, and hear all about the superstitions and legends behind dozens of creatures and places found on the Western plains. The Navajo culture is rich with art, symbolism, and storytelling, so soak up as much as you can!
Hwy 316, Mexican Hat, UT, US
As soon as you step foot into Goosenecks State Park in Blanding, UT, you might not want to leave. It's a cliche to describe the views of this place as "jaw-dropping" or "breathtaking,” but they really and truly are. You'll be awestruck by the pure power of the San Juan River as you witness the path it has spent millions of years cutting through solid rocks and mountains. Your views of nature extend for miles, and there's always something to catch your eye. While at Goosenecks State Park, you can spend time hiking the nearby Honaker Trail, taking photos, sightseeing, or stargazing on a clear summer night. The dark skies, lack of light pollution, and unobstructed view of the heavens make for some of the best constellation-spotting in the country! But whether you visit during the day or night, be prepared to be amazed. The views from Goosenecks State Park are often compared to those of the Grand Canyon. Yep... this park is that special.
Indn Route 42, Oljato-Monument Valley, AZ, US
Monument Valley is allegedly one of the most photographed landmarks, not just in the country, but in the world.... and for good reason. Located in Arizona on the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, it boasts some of the most magnificent sandstone structures you'll ever see, with heights ranging from 400 to 1,000 feet. These buttes are called "mittens" for their unique shape. Not only is the sheer size of the sandstone formations mindboggling, but the surrounding scenery, color, and plant life make the red and brown sand really pop. What you see at Monument Valley is the direct result of the wind, over the course of millions of years, changing a basin into a plateau. It's a powerful place, naturally and spiritually, so when you visit, take your time and remember to be respectful.
U.S. 160, Kayenta, AZ, US
A can't-miss stop for any history buff, the Navajo Code Talkers Display recounts the true story of the US government using the Navajo language to encode top-secret messages that were near impossible for WWII enemies to decipher. The Navajo language is a unique tonal language that is very difficult to learn and has few similarities to other commonly-spoken dialects, so the US used the help of several native Navajos to create a communication system that could not be cracked. As the story goes, without the help of the Navajo language and the group of young men who were fluent in it, World World II might not have ended quite the way it did.
In the 1980s, the town of Kayenta opened its first fast food restaurant, which was owned by the son of one of the legendary Navajo Code Talkers. That's why to this day, the little memorial is located in a Burger King. The display is fascinating, and you can always grab a Whopper to eat as well.
Located at the Junction of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, NM, US
The Four Corners Monument is the only place in the continental United States where four states touch at precisely the same point. In addition to defining the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, the Four Corners Monument also marks the boundary between Native American governments; the Navajo Nation and the Ute Tribe Reservation meet here as well. Plus, it's a pretty classic roadside stop in the middle of nowhere, and a photo op that you definitely don't want to pass up. There are some local crafts for sale around the monument, and those are worth a browse, too.
Rising up from the flat, dusty, New Mexico desert, it's hard to miss the imposing and mysterious Shiprock. Over 7,000 feet tall, it's no wonder that the strange formation (actually the remains of a 27-million-year-old volcano) attracted the wonder and curiosity of humans for centuries. The rock was sacred to the Navajo people, who called it the "Tsé Bitʼaʼí,” or "the rock with wings.” According to legend, it's all that remains of the giant bird that carried the Navajo from the north to New Mexico. There are plenty of other legends and stories about how the massively tall formation appeared in the desert, each more colorful than the last.
Of course, the rock holds interest for more than just the Navajo people. Since the early 20th century, people have been intrigued by the idea of climbing the Shiprock-- the first ascent occurred in 1939. It's a confuddling and technically difficult climb, with various routes recorded. It doesn't really matter now, since climbing the rock has been outlawed by the Navajo, who own it. The rock is sacred to them. At the end of the day, adventurers who'd like to conquer the rock will have to gaze up at it from below and wonder about the ghosts, bird monsters, or other mythical beasts that might be hidden at its peak.
Having a slice of each of the four corner states, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, is a wonderful way to explore this region. Whether it's checking out Monument Valley in Arizona, camping in Colorado, learning Native American lore in New Mexico, or sightseeing at Goosenecks State Park in Utah, the four corner states have plenty to offer to the new traveler and experienced pro alike. Plus, how often do you get the chance to literally be in four places at once?